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Drink up at these amazing bars — they’re favorites of famous authors

The literary bars of literary giants

Paul Harris/Getty Images

Writers and bars have a special connection. These haunts are where ideas are forged, new characters are developed, and–in some cases–where the next great American novel is created.

Within these hallowed walls, you can feel the buzz of creative energy. Sure, Hemingway and Hunter S. Thompson may be gone, but their spirit remains, permeating these watering holes with an atmosphere you just don’t get anywhere else.

Here are the best literary bars in the land, where you can get a good drink in good company and maybe even come up with the plot for something legendary.

Sloppy Joe’s

Sloppy Joe's Bar in Key West.
Sloppy Joe's / Sloppy Joe's

This Key West bar was a favorite of Hemingway. Legend has it that Hemingway visited the bar with his pals so often that he considered himself a co-owner of the place. During his time on Florida Island, the Nobel Prize in Literature recipient would fish for marlin, sip rum cocktails at the bar, and work on books like The Old Man and the Sea. Sloppy Joe’s remains a pretty low-key bar, but that’s the draw, and it very much reflects the Key West vibe. There’s even a live cam if you want to take it all in.

Woody Creek Tavern

Woody Creek Tavern.
Woody Creek Tavern

Hunter S. Thompson’s second home, this Colorado dive, is set high in the snow-frosted Rockies. Thompson loved whiskey (just ask the accountants at Rolling Stone) and did a lot of sipping and thinking in this cherished bar. Woody Creek Tavern is still going strong, and many visits to get a stiff drink and take in what the Gonzo journalist appreciated so much. And who wouldn’t want to chase some of the lore? After all, Thompson is rumored to have been up to all kinds of booze-fueled antics at the bar, from lighting off smoke bombs inside to signing books by shooting them with a revolver. Fortunately, he could walk home to his ranch.

White Horse Tavern

White Horse Tavern.
White Horse Tavern

A top NYC bar, White Horse Tavern is where wordsmiths like Norman Mailer would frequent. The bar goes back to 1880, making it the second oldest still-running establishment in New York. Mailer wasn’t alone; big literary names like Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan, and James Baldwin also loved the Manhattan spot. Mailer, in particular, liked beer and would often pop in for one in the afternoon. The bar served as inspiration for a career that spanned more than 60 years and expanded into the realms of film, journalism, and theater.

Vesuvio Cafe

Vesuvio Cafe.
Flick/Loco Steve / Flickr

Set in San Francisco, Vesuvio Cafe was adored by the likes of Jack Kerouac. This beat-centric bar was bustling in the mid-20th century, a place where the most creative minds would gather and be merry (or commiserate). The beautiful Cavalli building is where the bar is nestled, and little has changed since it opened in the late 40s. The bar remains a magnet for artists, musicians, and writers and has a warm, neighborly feel. Kerouac would hang out here often and loved a good Margarita.

Ritz-Carlton Boston

Ritz-Carlton Boston.
Ritz-Carlton

This luxe Bean Town bar was a favorite of poet Anne Sexton, who even referenced it and her favorite cocktail (Martini) in some of her work. The bar itself has been upgraded a bit over the years but the classy feel is very much still alive and well. From the moment you find a perch at one of the glossy bar chairs, you can feel an urge to create.

Lafitte’s

Lafitte's New Orleans.
Lafitte's / Lafitte's

This New Orleans bar claims to be the oldest gay bar in America. When big-name writers like Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote were in town, they tended to head over to the Bourbon Street bar. Lafitte’s has been a haven for the LGBTQ+ community, hosting drag shows and welcoming all walks with its friendly atmosphere. Capote was a fan of a good Screwdriver so order that if you happen to be lucky enough to visit.

El Quijote

The Quixote Bar.
Mark Stock / The Manual

This bar in the Chelsea Hotel in NYC has been visited by so many icons it’s hard to keep track. The hotel has been the home for the likes of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, while El Quijote, one of the colorful in-house bars, has long attracted writers like Patti Smith. The poet practically made the bar her office, and we can see why. From the convivial feel and great service to being right in the heart of New York, the spot is ideal for writers.

Cole’s

Cole's Los Angeles.
Cole's

This downtown Los Angeles bar is known for its French Dip but also for having been a favorite of Charles Bukowski. The novelist and poet would hit Cole’s often, sponging up its context as he brainstormed and allowed the many shades of the City of Angels to influence his excellent writing. The best underground writers tend to get to the core of the American experience and the bar during its heyday offered a sharp portrait of that.

We’ve got plenty more on the subject. Check out the best bars in America and how to make a Death in theAfternoonn, a favorite cocktail of Hemingway. You may never become famous but you’ll be taking part in something famous people did.

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Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
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